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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tragedy of 'Lost Little Boy'

OAKMONT, Pennsylvania -- Howard Cosell, the television commentator, once said of O.J. Simpson, "Poor, poor O.J., just a lost little boy." Cosell said those words a long time ago and said them kindly, because he liked the man. But Cosell's admiration did not extend to Simpson's work. He thought the great football player was a minor broadcasting talent who was in over his head on "Monday Night Football." Cosell believed television's skewed value of celebrity over substance raised Simpson to a position where he would fail and fail sensationally. A lost little boy, Cosell called him, and now those words carry an ineffable sadness. Lost. A lost hero. The sadness of Simpson's descent is not a sadness for him alone. To think of him as a murderer is to think of a hero lost in a darkness that is part of us all. If O.J. Simpson did it, any of us can do it. This is Shakespearian tragedy played out in a white Bronco on a 20th-century freeway. We who celebrated O.J. Simpson now must deal with the mortal pain and fear that comes with knowing his pains and fears. We know him as a hero flawed by jealousy, perhaps even driven to rage by obsession. We know that the mother of his two youngest children repeatedly called the police, saying Simpson had threatened her. The police arrested Simpson for beating her in 1989. Pleading no contest, he was sentenced to 120 hours of community service and ordered to undergo psychiatric counseling. They were divorced in 1992. A month ago, Nicole Brown Simpson told Simpson they would never be together again. At the first reports of Simpson's possible involvement in the murder of his children's mother, Simpson's friends in football and the media said it was not possible. Simpson was incapable of such a thing. The friends ignored history that might have instructed them otherwise. Simpson's 1989 arrest came after police found his wife hiding in bushes to escape further beatings. Somehow, Simpson's friends persuaded themselves he was incapable of brutality when he had committed brutality only five years before. I watched the Bronco on the freeway with a certain sadness, not for Simpson but for his children, who lost their mother and may lose their father, and for Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, dead at a murderer's hand. We watched the white Bronco on the freeway, and we heard that O.J. Simpson held a gun to his head. People stood on the freeway and waved to the white Bronco, fools waving to a man charged with a double murder, fools waving in a surreal spectacle of crime, celebrity and televised pictures. We saw a message scrawled on cardboard, "Save the Juice," and we saw, from helicopter cameras hovering over Simpson's house, police with revolvers drawn waiting for poor, poor O.J., just a little lost boy. In an apparent suicide note, Simpson said he had nothing to do with the murder of his children's mother while the children slept a few feet away. As for the 1989 incident, he said he pleaded no contest not because he was guilty but to silence the media. Few people believe any of that because they have been given no reason to believe. Instead, we have a disturbing portrait of Simpson living two lives. In one he is the American hero, a sweet friend, a comic actor in goofy movies, an athlete of remarkable gifts, an adoring father. His other life seems to have been lived in the darkness of anger. Better people than O.J. Simpson have been destroyed by such conflicts. Even his note acknowledged as much. The last sentence asked of us: "Please think of the real O.J. and not this lost person."